Prospect of the Day: Dustin Ackley, 2B, Seattle Mariners
The Mariners promoted heralded prospect Dustin Ackley to the major leagues on Thursday, handing him the second base job and inserting him in the starting lineup tonight against the Phillies. Will the second-overall pick in the 2009 draft live up to lofty expectations?
A star at the University of North Carolina, Ackley was considered by most scouts to be the best pure hitter available in the 2009 draft. He hit .402/.448/.591 as a freshman in '07, .417/.503/.597 as a sophomore in '08, and .417/.517/.763 as a junior in '09, with 22 homers and a 50/34 BB/K in 266 at-bats. Scouts loved his swing, and he showed an outstanding batting eye to go with it. He also ran well and had great "intangibles." The main question on draft day was defense. He had Tommy John surgery in '08 and spent much of his college career at first base, but scouts felt he had the athleticism and instincts to play center field or second base.
The Mariners decided to use Ackley at second base. He's needed some adaptation time, as you would expect, and while he's never going to be a Gold Glove player, his defense is competent, with average range and improving reliability. He can certainly stick in the lineup defensively if he hits as expected. His speed is above average and he is a fundamentally sound runner, though he isn't an overly aggressive stealer, with 17 steals in 200 minor league games.
Ackley didn't light the Double-A Southern League on fire early in 2010, but he did show good plate discipline (55/41 BB/K in 289 at-bats for West Tennessee) while posting a .263/.389/.384 line. This was enough to earn a promotion to Triple-A, where he showed a bit more pop and hit .274/.338/.439 in 212 at-bats for Tacoma. Some observers were disappointed in him last year, but keep in mind he was learning a new position and had totally skipped A-ball. He looked outstanding in the Arizona Fall League last autumn, hitting .424/.581/.758.
Ackley had another slow start for Tacoma this year (this seems like a pattern), hitting .211/.336/.305 in April. But he caught on fire in May (.355/.449/.605) and June (.346/.500/.538), giving him an overall line this spring of .303/.421/.487. He's hit nine homers already, compared to just seven all of last year, and his 55/38 BB/K is exceptional. He has nothing left to learn about hitting in the minor leagues.
In the majors, Ackley projects as a high-batting-average hitter with moderate power. His excellent strike zone judgment should keep his on-base percentage quite strong. Scouts expect that he'll contend for batting titles, although his history of slow starts, as well as the difficult nature of Safeco Field, could be a hindrance, at least until he gets his feet wet. As with any rookie there may be some ups-and-downs, but overall Ackley will be a solid regular at worst and has a good chance to become much more than that.